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The Inherent, irreplacable value of fathers

Father's Day dad

On Father’s Day people tend to become sentimental and writers reflect on their own dads with warm nostalgia and sentimentality. Such sentiments are entirely appropriate and relevant because the best dads are the ones who evoke such feelings. But in today’s world, far too many children are growing up without the slightest understanding of what a dad’s presence means in a home or what unconditional acceptance and daily interaction with a loving dad means in a child’s life. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America –– one out of three –– live in homes where the biological father is absent. The absence of fathers in America’s homes has a direct impact on nearly all of the social issues facing America today, including well-documented increases in behavioral, emotional and psychological problems in children as well as dramatic increases in the costs of governmental assistance programs. 

It does not take a social scientist to see the impact of the increasing number of children growing up in households where the father is not present, nor involved in parenting. Without the socializing benefits of a responsible, mature male influence –– and not just any male nor any one of the revolving boyfriends of single moms who transition through too many households, but one whose authority is rooted in fatherhood –– there is a serious deficit in self-control. On any trip to a local mall, you’ll see at least half a dozen mothers struggling with rambunctious young boys, and no father will be in sight. You’ll also see groups of angry, belligerent, pre-teen and teenage boys hanging around looking for mischief. 

Fatherless girls are more likely to be sexually promiscuous in trying to satisfy their unmet emotional needs. They are also more vulnerable to the advances of predators who see their emotional needs and profit from them through commercial sexual exploitation. 

An FBI agent asked an incarcerated sex trafficker where he found his victims. The pimp explained that it was simple: He spotted a young girl at the mall. He went up to her and said, “You have beautiful eyes.” If the girl smiled and said “thank you,” he moved on, but if she looked down and said, ‘No, I don’t,” the man said, “I know I’ve got her.” Girls without dads who love them unconditionally and tell them they are beautiful are especially vulnerable to the “lines” of predators. 

"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection."

- Sigmund Freud

The emotional problems and insecurities of fatherless boys and girls also play out in the larger community, with particularly severe consequences in the public schools and violent streets of the inner cities. 

Forty years of social science data detail the higher frequency of adverse child development outcomes for children raised in single-mother households. The cost of father-absence in children’s well-being is unconscionable. Official U.S. data shows that 63 percent of youth suicides (5 times the average), 70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions (9 times the average) and 85 percent of children with behavioral disorders (20 times the average) are from fatherless homes. The National Principals Association Report stated that 71 percent of all high school drop outs (9 times the average) come from fatherless homes. Other research reveals that 75 percent adolescents in chemical abuse centers (10 times the average) and 85 percent of youths in prison (20 times the average) come from homes without a father’s presence. Teens in single-mother households are 30 percent more likely than teens in married-mom-and-dad-families to engage in risky behavior like drinking, drugs, delinquency, and dropping out of school. 

The cost to society from government being a “substitute parent” is equally disturbing. Even the Brookings Institution, no hotbed of conservative thinking, issued a report acknowledging that the over $580 billion spent in 2004 by the government on means-tested programs designed to assist the poor (4 times that spent in 1968) has failed to address and has even made worse the main causes of poverty (primarily single-mother households). 

Amazingly, a just-presented HHS research paper found no evidence of any beneficial effect on child poverty from the $5 billion in stimulus funds granted to the states (2009-2010) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Clearly, the policy that will break the vicious cycle between unwed childbearing and poverty is anything but more government-funded condom distribution, abortion and income assistance. Instead, we need to break the cycle of single-mother households with programs that encourage marriage and strengthen families. Our children deserve no less. 

An unprecedented number of the nation’s children are being raised without the presence of their biological fathers (although, of course, some mothers who give birth out of wedlock will eventually marry the father of their children). These children are growing up with no opportunity to know or interact with the man who bequeathed his genetic heritage, but is not around to guide, protect, and teach his children. Obviously, many children who grow up in a mother-only family do well, and many single mothers are heroic. Even so, social science data is clear and unequivocal: fathers are extremely important in the lives of children. 

As Sigmund Freud said many years ago, "I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." 

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is author of Children at Risk (2010) and Marriage Matters (2012). She heads the think tank for Concerned Women for America.